The fading roar of the presses

I have been letting this blog fade rather significantly since my retirement from teaching journalism, but a friend’s post on Facebook about the closing down of the Roanoke Times presses inspired me to write something kind of long for a Facebook post and relevant to the original theme of this blog, so here it is.

The Roanoke Times is now part of the Berkshire Hathaway media chain, and will be printed at another paper in that chain, part of the corporate consolidation of thinner and thinner newspapers with thinner and thinner roots in their local communities. So here is what I had to say about that on Facebook…

“Hot off the presses” can’t mean the same when the presses aren’t in the same city as the name on the front page of that newspaper… and the newspaper as an institution isn’t as great a representative of the community when it doesn’t employ the full range of production people, not just writers and editors and photographers and designers and ad takers, but typesetters and compositors and printers and press operators and forklift drivers (for those big rolls of paper!) and truck drivers and delivery folks, circulation supervisors, what we used to call  paperboys and newsstand operators… the whole crew that used to create a daily miracle in newsprint. See the pressman story that Roanoke Times veteran Beth Macy shares below ( 

No amount of corporate public relations staff can replace having dozens of employees who care about their jobs and represent the newspaper in the community.

Times are changing. “Papers” are digital. But it takes a mighty stretch for web comments, Twitter tweets and Facebook page discussions to make your local news organization as much a part of the community as it was when it employed so many people in the community in so many trades. 

I’m thinking of a short-lived Mickey Rooney radio series in which he played an Army vet newspaper-truck driver whose father had been a typesetter, and whose life goal was to be a reporter. For most of the 20th century, you had respect for the newspaper as a local institution, whether you agreed with his editorials or not, because you knew somebody who worked there or whose father or mother or brother or sister worked there. 

(Even if I mostly read its comic strips and a couple of humorous columns, I delivered something called the Daily Hampshire Gazette when I was in junior high school. It’s 630 miles from here and I still follow it on Facebook. It was “my paper” the way the record store that sponsored my bowling team was mine even before I had a stereo of my own.)

Packing up the presses and selling them for scrap or to some distant location where they still put ink on paper is in some ways just a sign of the times, but in other ways a sign of losing a “hot off the presses” community institution and local employer, taking over by a big out-of-town Corporation, cold and distant, not caring in much other than its bottom line.

Posted in Uncategorized

Three years into retirement; time flies online and off

Facebook just reminded me that three years ago today I announced my retirement from Radford University on Facebook…  Dave Winer ( was the first to “like” the anniversary note, which reminded me that writing on Facebook doesn’t get to the “open web” he and I both support.
So here I am… with what is mostly a duplication of what I said on Facebook today, plus some editing and a bunch of hat-tipping open-Web-research links at the end.

One thing I didn’t anticipate about retirement was how much I’d be using Facebook — back then I didn’t even hit the “like” button on comments.  Now posting cellphone pix of sunsets and area walking trails is almost a new career.  Another surprise was how much music I’d manage to play… three to five jam sessions a week, adding ukuleles to my guitar-mandolin-and-banjo instrument collection, as well as a tiple,  an instrument I’d never heard of in 2013. And I revived my old blog at as a place to write about music topics. (As distinct from this blog,  where I write about pretty much anything, but not often, and,  where I write about my old-time-radio-and-newspaper research, but not often enough.)

I’ve also contributed a couple of small items to the Journal of Appalachian Studies, continued on the review board of the Journal of Magazine and New Media Research in a small way, finally found someone to take over after a dozen years, and took a bunch of Coursera online classes, especially enjoying Wesleyan University film courses, whose professors helped me think about my own continuing study of now-departed American radio dramas that — in their day — helped boost the image of newspaper journalists, which I write about at (complete with audio-players for hundreds of radio episodes).

I also didn’t anticipate how much a role the smartphone would play in my retirement.  Those Facebook posts and photos, this WordPress blog update, and tons of research with,, http://worldcat.org, , — and more — have been done with my phone’s browsers and apps, from home, over apple pie at, from hiking trails, even from my tent at events like



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Posted in Uncategorized

Appalachia — a view from NPR

Anybody else catch the bits and pieces of “A view from Appalachia” on NPR Morning Edition today? I wasn’t up early enough for the 7:15 live Facebook chat, but will post a link to the replay.

Steve Inskeep co-anchored from a Knoxville restaurant, had interviews with the city’s mayor and a Berea College Appalachian Studies prof, plus a pre-recorded story segment from a Bristol (Va./Tenn.) pawn shop, and others with Tennessee’s governor, with a former Kentucky coal-miner who now makes Dixie Cups, with the promoter of the Bonnaroo music festival, with some folks trying to build new businesses in mountain communities like Damascus, Va., and with an unwed mother (also in Kentucky) who hopes joining the military will lead to a career in law enforcement, but not in her meth-afflicted hometown. Music by Knoxville’s Black Lillies, and R.B. Morris.

The program also was promoted in advance and during the morning from multiple Twitter feeds, including photos shot during Inskeep’s travels earlier in the week:

Placeholder Web pages were posted at 5 a.m., and by afternoon had streaming audio players. Eventually transcriptions were added.

All in all, it was an impressive commitment to making ambitious use of many available online media tools.

Shuffling together the geological “Appalachia” (including mountains as far as New York) with the cultural, historic and economic Southern Appalachian region in an overview probably didn’t help matters.

But I was most disappointed that West Virginia Public Radio wasn’t involved, rather than Knoxville, which was a bridge to Tennessee’s governor for an only loosely related interview story.

As a supplement,  I recommend the “Inside Appalachia” radio shows,  available as a podcast:


Posted in 2016, Appalachia, Government, News, NPR, radio, Tennessee, Virginia

Feeling my Net age

The Associated Press has announced that on June 1 its AP Stylebook will cease capitalizing Internet and Web.

The news on Facebook looked like this, with a good reminder that the internet and the web are not the same thing, capitalized or not.


Beyond that reminder, the style news has me feeling like a cyber curmudgeon, set in my ways after almost 40 years of using computer communication services. As a shortened form of the proper noun World Wide Web, “the Web” uppercase made sense to me when referring to the collection of computer services set in motion by Tim Berners-Lee in the early 1990s. 

AP and the public had gotten inconsistent about “Web,” website,  webmaster and other compound uses. Part of the problem is the sheer size of that capital W in most typefaces. A technical article risked poking the reader in the eye with all those tall barbs. So I understand the need to sacrifice the big W for typographical aesthetics and consistency.

I still like the somewhat geeky distinction between “an” internet — two or more connected networks — and “the” uppercase Internet, the ever-expanding  decentralized global network…  I think of it as a physical entity — all those wires, cables, wireless links, switches, routers and computers, as well as the rules (protocols) that make them work together.

The i/I distinction is admittedly confusing. The big Internet could use a name of its own. I would suggest FRED, and let someone else reverse engineer the acronym, but that friendly name already has other uses, some involving “the F-word.” Perhaps “the Net” could the replacement.

Or… another comparison just came to mind. Does “the ocean” suggest to you all of the oceans of the world? The individual oceans get their proper names, uppercase, while the network of all of them flowing into each other is referred to in lower case as the ocean or the oceans. But, no, let’s not start saying “the internets.” That sounds like a line from a stand-up comedian.

Meanwhile, I disagree with AP’s reference to the World Wide Web” and “email” as “subsets” of the network. They are software-powered services run on the network — programs and data in motion over all those cables and wireless links, following another layer of protocols.  “Subsets” of the Internet sounds more like some part of the physical wiring, rather than the electronic reality of bits and bytes flitting about wirelessly to take shape as pixels on our screens.

(In full curmudgeon mode, I admit I also preferred the word email with a hyphen, but that battle was lost several AP Stylebook editions ago. I thought the hyphen made the pronunciation consistent with other one-letter usages. Not that I’ve ever heard anyone mispronounce it “em-ail.”)

Note: After I posted a short note about this on Facebook, a friend (Dave Winer of asked me to put it on my blog so that he could point people to it more easily. This rather long draft was composed on a cell phone late at night, risking both eyestrain and auto-correct errors.
Alas, I’m afraid verbosity has struck, and I have no editing help — other than your comments on this blog post.

Posted in communication, Computers, Internet, Journalism, Technology

Saving the newspaper, 1932

  A former student of mine, now editor-in-chief of a small-town weekly newspaper, confessed on Facebook that she got lost in some bedtime reading last night and was up past 1:30. Coincidence: I was not only guilty of the same thing at the same time, but with every chapter of the book I was reading, I had thought about sending her a copy.

Actually, in this case “a copy” is just a web link or two. The book — about an even younger woman editor — is apparently out of copyright and available for free streaming or downloading in both Project Gutenberg e-book and LibriVox audio book formats.

In “Helen in the Editor’s Chair,”  a Nancy Drew style teen novel, two high school students have to run the town weekly when their dad the editor is taken ill and sent to Arizona because of “lung trouble.” It’s truly amazing what they accomplish without TV or the Internet! (I don’t think radio even gets mentioned.) The roles of both the country newspaper and the country doctor — the newspaper family’s next-door neighbor — will definitely have you wishing for simpler times.

From selling ads and setting type to covering stories big and small, and getting ideas for new features from helpful readers, the kids have a “we can do it!” energy that’s inspiring.  I couldn’t help imagining the two teenagers being played by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, and kept expecting them to burst into song on deadline. The setting is Midwestern, and, yes, there is a tornado — but Helen keeps her feet on the ground. Besides, the small town with its train station, farms and lake is close enough to Oz for me. 

I was up late with the audiobook, but Project Gutenberg has text versions, if you find audiobook pacing is too slow. (The reader is o.k., but so measured that I wonder if his target audience is ESL students.)

Posted in community, fiction, Journalism, jpop, literature, Newspapers, popular culture

Blogging hiatus… 

In a continuing attempt to decide what “being retired” means, I’ve made my swan-song post to the AEJMC Newspaper & Online News division website, the latest manifestation of an older site I started managing in 2003. (AEJMC is the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication, a membership group for teachers of journalism and related subjects.)

It took about four tries to get my successor as primary editor of the site logged in. Apparently the email system at the university where he teaches was blocking the login invitations.  As “editor emeritus” I’m hoping a new editor or two can develop a close working relationship with the officers of the group, attend more of its events (which I hadn’t been able to do for years), and get the division to live up to the “and online news” phrase its membership added to the former “Newspaper Division” name some years ago. 

Meanwhile, some officers apparently decided to abbreviate the division name “NOND,” which not only sounds negative, but reminds me of the old newspaper comic strip “Dondi,” about a sad-eyed war orphan. I preferred “N&ON” — to be whimsically pronounced a more electric “neon.” (It also was a hat-tip to the NandO Times, the old name of the Raleigh News & Observer’s pioneer online news site, where I became an online-news editor almost 21 years ago. Oh well.)

Meanwhile, I see a little post-convention activity at the division’s Facebook page, our third attempt at getting members interested in communicating through Facebook… But if current officers are Facebook users and shy about WordPress, maybe Facebook will grow to be part of the division’s new-media direction. I hope my successor as editor can repost things to the “open Web” for any division members who still insist the “walled garden” of Facebook is the enemy, or something. 

Posted in Uncategorized

When Hearst sang “Cuba, cheer up!”

As the U.S.A. reopens a Havana embassy, and Puerto Rico struggles with financial problems, perhaps it’s time to look back at a century of history — and the news media’s sometimes multimedia role in setting agendas that people might, in this case literally, march to.

I found a copy of this song in an antique shop’s paper ephemera bin long ago and for years toyed with the idea of searching the archives of William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal to see just how extensive the newspaper’s “musical supplement”-publishing endeavor was, and whether it was confined to cheerleading America into war with Spain. I assume this sheet music was bundled in with the other Sunday color supplements, although I suppose it might have been sold separately.
Now, having decided I’m better suited to retirement than to university-funded academic research, I’ll just toss the idea out here for others to consider. The New York Journal‘s “morgue” files of clippings and photos are — go figure — at the University of Texas, as I discovered just in time for a freeze on my then-university’s travel funds. Oh well.

The University of North Carolina, fortunately, has already scanned its copy of the song, so I’m including its images here. The scanners appear to have neglected the back page with the chorus, so I will look for my old copy and see if I can add it here later. Otherwise, I leave it to your imagination. The first line is probably an echo of the title, “There’s room for one more star…”
Note the publication date, April 17, 1898, two months after the explosion of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor. President McKinley asked Congress for war against Spain April 11 and set up a blockade; Congress declared Cuba independent April 19 (despite the annexation theme of the song), and finally declared war April 25. (Timeline at

The lyrics (note, as they say, the bottom line):

Look up, Cuba, why are you weeping? Why are you grieving day after day?

Justice must seem so silently sleeping and turn a deaf ear unto you when you pray.

Cuba, cheer up! And look forward with pleasure, soon will your sorrows vanish afar,

For in Old Glory’s starry gemmed azure, There’s room for one more star.

Long have you tried vainly to sunder cold cruel links of slavery’s chain

Binding you tightly, a poor captive, under the merciless rule of your harsh master of Spain.

Heroes who loved you, who fought bled and perished, striving to free you day after day.

Soon will their dreams, through weary years cherished, come true and your chains fall away.

Nobly you fight, ever resisting, taskmaster Spain who spares not to slay.

Led by a hero ever persisting and striving for freedom ’til he passed away.

Our motto is fair play and tho’ Spain may raid you, You’ll share the freedom we now enjoy.

And, with the help of the Journal, we’ll aid you, dear Cuba, Spain’s rule to destroy.

Posted in History, media studies, Music, Newspapers, popular culture

Grayson County Fiddlers’ Convention 2015


Two days of intermittent thunderstorms, rain and high winds didn’t chase away all the competitors — or spectators — at the 2015 Grayson County Fiddlers’ Convention in Elk Creek… although the Friday night storm winds did play havoc with the canopies and awnings that campers use to create sunshaded jam-session spaces.

A bunch of the tangled canopy frameworks were thrown together afterward, looking a lot like a multi-legged lunar lander or Mars rover, or some high-tech jackstraws.

Those who held on into Saturday afternoon — and looked away from the stage — did get treated to a broad double rainbow, only a small portion of which fits this cellphone image.


Posted in 2015, community, Music

Ten days to summer

Feels like summer here with 90 degree days, but it isn’t officially until the 21st. I’m already in “not getting everything done I intended to today” mode, but I did remember to look out the window at the right time.


Posted in photography, summer, weather

Back to school again

After a semester or two off, I’ve enrolled in another Coursera “MOOC” (Massively Open Online Class)…

No new Wesleyan University listings for more film history classes to pick-up where I left off with the last two, alas…

But I’ve had this nagging interest in the Python programming language for years too, so I’ve decided to give Coursera’s “Programming for Everybody (Python)” online class a try.

It’s based on Professor Charles Severance’s University of Michigan class, which already has a wealth of materials online here:

The Coursera version is free, using that system’s online video lectures, downloadable files, and discussion forums… as well as a free text book (available in a stunning array of ebook formats, including a 244-page PDF file), some YouTube videos, slideshows on Google Drive, and a Facebook page.

Actually, I signed up months ago and forgot to note on my calendar that it started today, then jumped in and spent hours at the computer exploring all that material… so I’m writing this in part to explain to some friends why I stood them up for the Monday night bluegrass jam session. Sigh. Maybe with Python I can write myself a better reminder-system. Ha!

Wish me luck! This is about my fifth “introduction to programming” over the years, starting with a lunch-hour class in the BASIC language on Wesleyan University’s DEC-10 mainframe in 1980, then Russ Walter’s introduction to microcomputer BASIC in 1983, a Python course a few years later, and even a taste of LISP programming for cognitive science classes. And on my own I’ve picked up just enough javascript to convince myself not to use it until I know what I’m doing.

But Python was the basis for the Django Web programming framework that I’ve watched being used to build newspaper websites, shape interactive Web apps that contributed to public access to information, and build a fascinating (and profitable) career or two… not that I plan to do any of those things myself.

I wonder if “Python voyeur” could be a line on my resume?

Posted in Computers, coursera, MOOCs, programming